As we wind down the school year, the stress levels for students tend to shoot up through the roof. One of the things that I have found to be wonderfully helpful in mitigating that stress is something so simple and something that all kids love to do, coloring.
That's right, coloring is great for mental health. Don't believe me, check out this article from the Mayo Clinic and this article from the Cleveland Clinic on why coloring is good for children AND adults. I offered coloring to my students the other day and almost every single one took me up on the offer and they sat, talked, and colored. It was such a nice and calming moment in class.
If you are looking for some coloring resources, you can check out the ones below.
If you are looking for a fun way to bring a design challenge to your students, please take a moment to check out Coolest Projects from Raspberry Pi.
Coolest Projects provides all of the information a student and a teacher needs to be successful. The mentor guide really helps the teacher through the process. I love the student guide that was created that helps walk the students through the design process. From ideation, creation, testing, and reflection, the student goes through the entire process following the guided steps.
Whether creating something using Scratch or something that requires physical hardware, there are plenty of different categories that students can submit their project to for consideration. I will be rolling this out to my 6th grades in the next week and I can't wait to see what they come up with for Coolest Projects.
The deadline for sharing the projects for judging is May 11th. I am looking forward to seeing all of the amazing projects this year.
Over the past few years, there has been more talk about Social Emotional Learning. As part of that conversation, many educators are hearing new terms. One of those terms is neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity can be described as the fact that different people experience the world around them in different ways.
As a teacher, we have always known that our classroom was filled with students that approached learning in different ways. We were always tasked with differentiating our instruction to support those students. However, with more research being spent on brain science and the act of learning, we are understanding neurodiversity much more.
Two terms that have become more common place are "neurotypical" and "neurodivergent". These are relatively new terms. So much so, that the spell check on Blogger is telling me I am spelling them wrong. A neurotypical person is best described as someone who interacts with society in ways that are acceptable to agreed upon social constructs. A traditional, but very antiquated, word to describe these folks would be "normal".
Neurodivergent people (Me!) are the opposite of neurtypical people. Their approach to learning and processing tends to go against the accepted views of societies or educational institutions. People that have dyslexia and ADHD are a few examples of the types of neurodivergent people out there. The more I learned about being neurodivergent, the better I felt about myself. So many of my past and current struggles were able to be understood from the lens of neurodivergency. Once I understood it better, I was able to own it. I was able to be empowered by it. I no longer viewed my neurodivergence by my learning deficiencies, but through the special ways I do learn.
It can be very hard for a neurdivergent person or student to "fit in" to a structure or system that was designed for and by neurotypical people. The more I have learned about my on neurodivergent behaviors, the better I have been in understanding the neurodiversity in my classroom. You would be hard pressed to find a classroom that did not have some neurodivergent students. Those students can often be overlooked or labeled as "busy bodies", "day dreamers", "quiet types", and more because they do not fall into the neurotypical definition of a student. This has to change for our students.
One of the things I have been able to do as a neurodivergent person is share the fact that I am neurodivergent with students. I will mention that I have ADHD and that I manage dyslexia. I have found that the more that I have shared, the more that students have spoken up about how they are neurodivergent. Creating a safe space that allows for students to feel comfortable with who they are is key to any classroom.
There are are some things that you can do to support a neurodiverse classroom,
Talk about neurodiversity in class and what it means
Allow for fidget devices and/or bring in wobble chairs
Let students stand or move around the classroom during a lesson when appropriate
Provide written directions whenever possible
Break projects into smaller chunks with check-in points
Talk to students who are neurodivergent and see what they need
These are just some strategies on helping neurodivergent students in your classroom. I recommend doing some reading on the topic as well to really further your understanding of neurodiversity in your classroom.
Right now, there is a big push to support students and staff with Social Emotional Learning. My big questions to people out there that talk about SEL is, do you know what SEL actually is? I feel it is another acronym that people use that do not fully understand what it means. There is a vague understanding, but not truly enough to expound on the specifics of it and how it would be possible to implement it.
This is one, of many, issues with public commentary on education that does not have an educator's voice at the front. It is super easy to tell everyone that we need to support our students with SEL and then not have to worry about the complicated process it takes to infuse it into a school. While still requiring students to take these high stakes tests and then find time to make sure their mental health is supported would be comical if it wasn't so sad.
Teachers are not equipped to just "roll out" SEL with students. It should not be a box that is checked as well. "Doing" SEL is not the same as investing in SEL with your students and staff. It takes lots of hard work and the shifting of priorities. I wish more people would spend the time to dig deeper into the buzzwords that are thrown around before expecting teachers to adjust their instructional day, again, for a new program that they have not been prepared.
If you are looking for SEL resources, check out these links,
Do you give a cumulative final exam at the end of the school year? Is it mandated by your school? If not, why do you assess your students that way?
Final Exams and the weight they hold on final grades has been something that has bothered me for a while. At a previous school, the final exam was worth 20% of the student's overall grade. One bad exam day and, poof, there goes your average. If you have earned an A for the class, why should you have to take the exam when it only serves to penalize you for small lapses in memory or a missed bubble on a test sheet? If the final exam is designed to assess what you know and you have shown what you know throughout the year, what is the point? Regurgitating a whole year's worth of information is not a meaningful assessment of what a student knows. I gave projects as a final exam for as long as I could until I was forced to give the common final exam at my previous school. My challenge for teachers who are not required to give a common final exam is try something different.
Traditional exams fail to assess what all students know. They are great at assessing type "A" personality students who can cram for an exam, spit out the information, and then move on to the next test. The rest of us need something different. An opportunity to shine in a way that can still be assessed, but also removes the anxiety of an all or nothing exam.
I am very lucky to be working with schools that are actively moving away from the traditional assessment approach and are embracing Project Based Learning. Teachers feel much more excited about projects than they do MC tests. The students feel the exact same way. Here are some quick start tips for those interested in using a PBL approach to the end of the year assessment.
1. Identify the areas of growth and content you want to see in students.
Every content area has benchmarks that we want to see students reach. Identify the most important ones and outline them clearly for the students. Provide examples of assignments and/or readings completed during the year that connect to them.
2. Create a rubric that outlines how each benchmark can be recognized.
Rubrics should clearly lay out each area that a student will be assessed and what is needed for the teacher to recognize their work. Rubrics are not easy to create and will take time to get just right. Do your best and talk to students to make sure nothing is vague to them.
3. Give students the freedom to explore different mediums when creating their projects.
The more freedom many students have, the better the projects you will receive. Some students will need very strict guidelines to follow and other will excel when given complete freedom. You know which students those are in your class. Keep that in mind while support them through the process.
4. Give time for students to present to the class.
Student presentations allow the teacher to assess them using the rubric and also serve as a nice review of the material covered in class. Seeing the content over and over again in different formats can really help all students retain the information.
I have done this with my students I have received some of the very best projects I could hope for over the years. Here is one example that used interpretive dance to connect characters we encountered in our readings that year,
There are so many amazing possibilities for students if we give them a chance to showcase what they know in ways that go beyond the traditional exam. I hope more teachers out there will take a chance on doing things a little differently this year.
If you have any questions about Project Based Learning and how you might bring it to your classroom or school, feel free to reach out to me. My Summer is filling up, but I still have space if you want to connect.